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Govt mulls digital action plan -

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(generated from captions) front of them? Yes, we think so.

Will everybody be happy? No. Ros Childs with that report. The national broadcaster didn't rate a big mention

in the Coonan discussion paper today but, coincidentally, the Government's apparently negative view of the ABC, featured as a cover story in this week's 'Bulletin'.

The 'Bulletin' says there's a determination within the Government to use the appointment of a new managing director and a new chairman to finish the job of changing the ABC's culture more to the Government's liking. I spoke with Senator Coonan about the ABC and her new media policies in Sydney this afternoon. Helen Coonan, you've obviously thought about this for quite some time, so you must have a fairly clear idea of what might be in your digital action plan to persuade Australians to go digital faster than they have. So what practical incentives are you considering for consumers? That's still really to be worked out. We need to develop a digital action plan, but the thinking is advanced that we need to look at first of all giving consumers some information

and education. We know that the take-up of digital has been a bit sluggish, so we need to, I think, encourage people to know that we will get to switching off their analog signal and we have to move to digital because everyone else in the world is going that way, so we need to educate them as to the benefits. And once we get to a certain penetration, then I think we have to look at who simply can't afford a set-top box and who are the recalcitrants who need to be brought over. So is it fair to say How will your ownership rules promote greater diversity of ownership within Australia

if they also allow the current big players to get bigger and the mainstream market more concentrated in fewer hands? I think that's a really very fair question, and what, of course, I think we have to understand is that we're not prohibiting, of course, with foreign investment the fact that there can be new players

or indeed existing in Australia other players who want to enter the market. I don't think we can assume for a minute that there will be further concentration, and we... But you can't assume not, either, can you? No, but what we can say is we're very serious about having a floor under which diversity can't go any lower, in other words, the number of players can't get any lower, and secondly, we want to do it along with new services which will obviously be a much richer experience for consumers. Can I say also that it's a slightly different landscape to the last time we looked at this, Kerry, because we know now there really is a proliferation of news and media and diversity from other sources. But those don't tend to be on the fringe, don't they? They do. Well, I they they have been, but they're not really any more when you've got independent news wires, you can go on the Net and you can read editorials from anywhere around the world, in effect, and you've got of course web logging, you've got lots of other ways people are getting news and information. But when you're talking about the concentration of power that can come with the concentration of media ownership - Rupert Murdoch, for instance, already controls nearly 70% of all Australian newspapers, plus a slab of pay TV - how does it promote media diversity to allow Mr Murdoch to buy up a television station and/or radio stations and make more substantial inroads into new media on top of what he already owns? Well, it may not, Kerry, and, of course, we've got the competition regulator there

to ensure there is no substantial lessening of competition in a market. If you already control the outlets that you've just enumerated, I think it would be highly unlikely that you would be able to make any further acquisition of the regulated platforms. But what you have now in Sydney, for instance, is, I think, 12 media groups. is, I think, 12 media groups. Mmm. In Melbourne, I think it's around 11. What you're saying under your policy is that that will be allowed to shrink to five in each capital city. Well, subject to both regulators, subject to the diversity test and subject to the ACCC who is charged to ensure that there is not a substantial lessening of competition in any market and the regulator has made a number of statements to say that with the growth of the Internet and with the growth of news being delivered on other platforms, that could well become relevant to looking at whether or not these will be permitted. You must be aware of what's already happened with regional radio, once providing important local programming and local services, now dominated by an increasing trend to national networks with tiny handfuls of hubs churning out generic programs. Won't your new ownership rules simply shrink media diversity even further in many places? It won't, Kerry, because, to start with, there are very fewer media outlets in regional or rural Australia that are over the threshold. So, in other words, if there are under four players in any market, it's not going to allow any consolidation at all... So the horse has bolted in those places, is what you're saying? No, what I'm saying is that there has to be, I think, some movement of scale and scope. For instance, sometimes we can find that in regional markets you can have a television outlet and a newspaper going broke. If you're going to stop any kind of consolidation at all, you're going to actually diminish services

for consumers in those markets. But your point is a good one and we're going to make sure that we legislate as part of licensed conditions that news must be live and local and where there is any undue concentration, the regulator will have the capacity, say, with radio to be able to issue another licence in that area. Now, on the future of the ABC, senator... I love that topic. ..I notice in this week's 'Bulletin' magazine you've acknowledged that local drama production on the ABC is unacceptably low. Yes. You say, "We've obviously taken a very close look at this "and we need to do something about it." What can you do to raise the level of local production, quality local production particularly, other than to increase funding for that purpose? There are two points to it. You do need to have some extra funding,

but along the lines of an independent production arm, you cannot only assist the ABC with co-productions, but you can also help the local production sector. I think there is some innovative ways in which we can look at getting local content up. I think it is a critically important role for the ABC and I'm very saddened to see that largely due to external costs, rather than just reallocating priorities,

the ABC has let its local content production slip. I think we can do something about it and I think we should. The Government has the report that you commissioned from KPMG... Yes. ..after its review of the ABC's efficiency and funding, and I understand that it actually says the ABC is both efficient and chronically underfunded. Is that correct?

Well, before we get too excited about that, we have to understand it was a very macro-level report,

although it does say that to the extent that it looked at the macro level of asset allocation and things of that nature, that the ABC was broadly efficient - it certainly said that. I think we have to look at what the report recommends, look at what the ABC has asked for as part of its triennium funding, it's not always the same figures, and come up with something that properly funds the ABC in accordance with our election commitment. Given the stake that the public has in the ABC,

Finally, senator, is it true as the 'Bulletin' is reporting, that ABC Chairman Donald McDonald is "hated and detested" within Coalition ranks, including within the Cabinet where he has no supporters except John Howard and does that mean he is not going to get a third term as chairman? I think that that's a very unfair characterisation of the attitude to the chairman. Amongst my colleagues, including my Cabinet colleagues, I don't think that fairly characterises the attitude to Donald. What we do... Do you think he's done a good job? Well, I think he has done a very good job in difficult circumstances with the ABC. We all know the history of some of the changes of management and obviously it was pretty hard to keep the ship on the seas and upright during those kind of problems. I think we have to understand that Donald has had two terms. If he were not renewed, it would be because he had had two terms and not because that was a correct characterisation of his time on the ABC.